Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, October 10, 2014

Inheriting Old and Rare Books in an Estate

The post below was generously provided by Avi Davis: 

If you are taking care of a loved one's estate, you have probably made sure to educate yourself on the subject of art and antiques. Most people have a general understanding that these objects can be valuable assets and are worth researching, and, in some cases, getting a professional appraisal. But what about a library full of books? Many people tend to overlook books as potential assets. And even if you bring a rare book to a general antiques dealer or estate appraiser, they often are not qualified to give specialized book appraisals. This can be a mistake: The simple fact is, books can be worth money. 

A library, whether well maintained or consigned to a dust-filled attic, may be hiding valuable gems, including rare first editions or out-of-print items. Books printed before 1800 are especially worth looking for, as are manuscripts, journals, or other one-of-a-kind objects, or books with inscriptions from important people. Another factor that can create value in a book is provenance: do any of the books in the library have an interesting story or history of ownership? 

If you're not sure how to go about evaluating your library, there are many resources that can help. Websites for selling used books, such as Abebooks.com and AddALL.com (which we recommend) can be good places to get a quick and rough estimate of a book's value.The American Book Prices Current database (bookpricescurrent.com), is the standard reference for professional booksellers in North America. It provides up-to-date information on books sold at auction each year. 

Of course, the best way to fully investigate the value of a library is to talk to an experienced rare book dealer. A good book dealer will have access to resources that the ordinary person usually does not, like auction records going back several decades. In addition, they will be able to use their expertise and experience to correctly assess factors such as a book's condition and provenance, both of which can significantly affect a book's value.

 Most dealers will offer a free valuation of rare books. If you aren't able to visit a book dealer in your area in person, most will be happy to try to assess your books based on a description and digital images. The author of this post, RareBookBuyer, is an experienced book dealer who has worked in the industry for over thirty years. RareBookBuyer provides free appraisals of rare books, and will make fair offers for items of interest. Feel free to contact them by phone or email. Appointments are also available at their New York City office.

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